Models for collectivising land in England and Wales

tliouk office at
Mon Nov 24 14:40:13 GMT 2003

"'The land is not to be sold in perpetuity, because the land belongs 
to me"' Leviticus 25:23

Models for collectivising land in England and Wales

The lnclosure problem

Private property rights now exist on almost all land in England and 
Wales. The earth under our feet once considered a divine gift to all 
mankind, has been measured, partitioned off with fences, and 

The Normans' Domesday book set the stage for inclosure. Compiled in 
1086, it was an inventory of all land-based resources in the country 
so they could be effectively taxed. There were at least some local 
riots when the king's commissioners demanded what was considered 
private information.

It was nicknamed Domesday because the people compared it to the day of
judgement. Once a taxable resource was in the book no appeal was 

Inclosure (enclosure seems to have been the advocates' spelling) was 
the transfer of God given land into the ownership of arrogant men. 
Such land took on the legal status of private property such as 
something crafted by one's hands or something bought or exchanged. 
The controversial Statute of Merton, a scheme of Henry VIII's, was 
one of the first inclosures in Britain.

Inclosure took place piecemeal across the country over many hundreds 
of years and the fragmented peasants' side to the story has been 
largely untold. The rural poor could rarely read or write, neither 
did they have more than a handful of sympathisers amongst the classes 
that could. The perpetrators didn't want sordid details of evictions 
recorded. In many cases the only hint of struggle over land are 
entries for soldiers' payment in the inclosure commissioners accounts.

The only king to make a serious attempt to put a stop to and even 
reverse inclosure, Charles I, was beheaded. The English Civil War, 
which culminated in the death of Charles, was driven by the same 
classes who were finding inclosure so lucrative.

England became the world's first nation controlled by the merchant or
capitalist class. It was the first country to see mass rural 
evictions and urbanisation and as a result was fertile ground for the 
industrial revolution.

The present and virtually universal 'private ownership' model has 
left us with no easily identifiable way of legally containing 
or 'owning' land which doesn't lead to financially better off 
individuals having greater power in deciding how it is used.

It is also difficult to see how a group can be prevented from going 
into debt that would leave land open to takeover by moneyed interests 
from outside.

The inclosure model has been used to undermine natural human rights in
other areas of nearest blood-relative took possession. As the head of 
the household wished it could pass to anyone in his or her immediate 

Crucially, the copyhold meant family land could not be bought and 
sold on the open market nor used as security against a bank loan. 
This made it virtually impossible for the family to be turned out of 
their home for financial reasons.

Historical models

The pre-inclosure open field system or manor was the natural 
settlement pattern of hunter-gatherers. Drawing on circumstantial 
evidence archaeologists and historians tend to agree on this.

Itinerant groups saw the benefit of collecting seed. Of clearing 
virgin ground for planting and coming back later in the year for 
harvesting. They soon realised that use of the same ground for 
growing every year led to deterioration of the soil hence they would 
make new clearings and/or 'rotate' old ones.

If game became scarce, possessions difficult to transport or demands 
on planter/harvesters increased longer stops became necessary between 
moving on. Previously cleared ground may have been revisited 
regularly and would be the obvious place for such stops, which would 
have become longer as possessions, buildings and other useful 
infrastructure increased.

Settled groups tended to live in the centre of several fields, like 
giant allotments, which contained strips farmed by individual 
households on rotation. Whatever the number of fields around the 
village one would be left fallow each year.

Crops were rotated including grains, pulses and root vegetables. One 
of the most popular rotations was barley and wheat on the thee-field 
system with one field fallow every year. The barley was malted for 
beer whilst the wheat was milled for bread baking.

This was the pre-enclosure model, with 'manor' settlement size being 
about 40 extended families. The group's leader became known as The 
Lord of the Manor and presided over a manorial court in which he too 
could be cross-examined and punished. The ordinary villagers were 
copyholders in most manors, with security of tenure and other 
important rights. No one was considered 'owner' of the land.

The Lord had exclusive use of 'demesne' land and was the manor's
representative in dealings with regional or national govenment and the
crown. The Lord had to supply soldiers for the king, a duty that was 
slowly replaced by a money tax.

Laxton, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, claims to be the only living
example of unenclosed land and is part of the crown estates.

Social cohesion

Do we know how ancient tribal societies delivered justice and made
decisions? This wisdom has been largely lost from our community 
memory with ruinous results. Group actions to create model 
communities can succeed in the short-term whilst there's a common 
cause but are rarely able to make the long haul.

All sorts of ideologies can halt the smooth running of a group: the 
desire to do without rules, disagreement about how to keep animals, 
differing views over noise levels and simple personality clashes can 
help groups see that unanimity of purpose may be superficial.
In tribal societies, such as amongst North American Indians, the 
leader of the tribe was there by consensus. He would be someone who 
people thought was a good thinker, reliable in a crisis. The tribal 
leader was only one of many agreed roles of responsibility among the 
men. Leadership roles carried greater responsibility as effects of 
decisions were felt much more close to home.

Women's role was as overseers of the tribe. The head woman was agreed 
by consensus with the other women. If the mother of the tribe felt 
the leader was not suitable she would call a kind of 'election'.

The tribal leader would stand up and make a speech about his past
achievements and his vision for the future. Other men would follow, 
often including a nomination from the women. Beginning with the old 
chief the various candidates would then go some way from the camp and 
pitch their tipi, or simply stand some distance apart.

Other members of the tribe would then cluster around their favoured 
leader with some of the speakers possibly demurring and showing their 
allegiance to another potential leader. Clusters of the lowest 
numbers would be obliged to disband and join larger ones.

After some time it would become clear who the new leader was to be. 
In the case of a strong ideological split the factions might decide 
to go their separate ways.

Matters of grievance and complaint were decided and rules set by a 
council of 'elders' of the tribe.

Ideologies, closely linked to spiritual beliefs, bound the people 
together. If the ideology became fractured or split the mechanism was 
there for the group to divide along the line of disagreement or 
follow the new consensus.

God's Land

One of the central faults in the manorial open field system was in the
idiosyncratic role of Lord. The word Lord is an amalgam of two 
ideas: 'a man who is greater than others' and a hangover from the 
(unbiblical) refusal of some believers to use God's name: Yahweh or 

Open field villagers had copyhold rights, their stake in the village
community. Copyhold was a type of tenure, similar to leasehold or 
freehold, abolished early in the 1900's. It could guarantee the head 
of a household the right to exclusive use of land for his home and 
some land immediately around it as a garden. It also guaranteed him a 
number of rotated strips in the open field equal to the other 
copyholders in the village. Furthermore it gave him common grazing 
rights on wasteland and in open fields if they were being grazed.

Remove The Lord of the Manor and replace him with the guidance that 
comes from faith in God of The Bible and adherence to the ten 
commandments and this old land management system has much to commend 

The copyhold agreements were the framework which supported consensus 
land management. Agreed rules and limits, such as stints on the 
commons, were enforced though the local court which was empowered to 
fine and suspend or even relieve a villager of their copyhold.

The copyhold was a model form of tenure in that it could only be 
passed down though the family. As in probate law if a copyholder died 
without any clear successor the nearest blood-relative took 
possession. As the head of the household wished it could pass to 
anyone in his or her immediate family.

Crucially, the copyhold meant family land could not be bought and 
sold on the open market nor used as security against a bank loan. 
This made it virtually impossible for the family to be turned out of 
their home for financial reasons.

So, how to return ownership to God?
Maybe through law such as intellectual property. Large publishers can 
now refuse to commission authors without owning copyright on their 
work. Private property rights are even being extended into genetic 
material, patents on life.

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